ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: March 2013
UPDATED: August 2020
Tips + tricks for baking up perfect French macarons
To be blatantly honest, I have been baking macarons nonstop for the past three weeks. March macaron madness, if you will. And since there is plenty of “how to make French macarons” on this sinister communication medium we call the internet, here’s what not to do.
Macaron fail #666
In my defense, my oven was lying to me. And in all seriousness, my obnoxious obsession developed several years ago when I first laid tongue and tooth on them at the original Ladurée patisserie in Paris.
Macarons are delightful, and are filled with buttercream. The delicate French pastries are lightly crisp, chewy and still manage to melt like butter in your mouth.
And I’m here to tell you crafting Parisian macarons is no different than baking American chocolate chip macarons from scratch. You simply need the proper know how. All of the fuss about how scary, temperamental and touchy macarons are is a little silly. I believe the problem is excessive over-thinking. Myself included.
Macaron fail #999
I once poked at tiny air pockets with a toothpick before baking.
Don’t do this.
After the above fails (and a thousand others not pictured), I respectfully demanded my pastry instructor at the CIA (culinary institute, not central intelligence) convey the finer art. He graciously did. And the five steps that follow this post are all you need know. Seriously.
How TO make French macarons, seriously
In the spirit of full disclosure, even when you follow all five steps exactly, your collective batch of macarons might not emerge from the oven as you hoped. There are so many factors that can affect macarons. An undetected air bubble here, a hidden clump of almond flour there, or an oven that just won’t hold temperature. What not to do is to get upset about it, and throw ugly but perfectly edible macarons in the trash (do as I say, not as I do).
So if you decide to try your hand at Parisian macarons, harness patience. Buy an oven thermometer, a cheap digital scale and a quarter-inch pastry tip. But whatever you do, don’t be discouraged if your first batches don’t bake up perfectly. Because regardless of appearance, they will all taste wonderfully light and deliciously sweet. Seriously.
The Five French Macaron Musts
#1: Sift, seriously
And just once will do. If you are grinding your own almond flour, grind the almonds with the confectioner’s sugar. If purchased almond flour, a go-round in the food processor won’t hurt, either. What can’t be sifted into your beaten meringue is for the bin, unless you want bumpy macarons.
#2: Whip it like you mean it
Give the egg whites and granulated sugar a piece of your mind on high speed for around 5 minutes. The meringue answers to you, not the other way around. And you don’t need ancient, room temperature egg whites to whip up a nice, stiff meringue. Room temperature or cold, old or fresh – don’t discriminate. Once you can play tilt-a-whirl with the bowl and the meringue stays put, beat one more minute for good measure, and call it whipped. Think shaving cream.
#3: Love lava.
Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue until it all comes together and flows slowly like molten lava. It should be smooth and shiny, but not even remotely runny. The French call this process macaronage. Properly folded batter will settle itself into flat circles on the sheet pan within 20 seconds of piping.
#4: Pipe concise
Hold the piping bag vertical and slightly above the lined baking sheet. Chef Spiess says “start where you want to finish”, meaning hold the bag at a distance above the pan relative to the size macarons you desire. Squeeze until the batter reaches the tip, then immediately stop squeezing, and whip in a small circular motion to free the bag. This is an art. Plan for the batter to end up all over your sheet tray the first several times. Seriously.
For the most part, when chef Thomas Keller says do something, I do it (I worked at one of his restaurants for a time). And in the Bouchon Bistro signature cookbook, he says tap the pan lightly after piping. This helps rid the macarons of air pockets, and encourages the crinkly base called pied (feet). For more on tapping, see the afterthoughts section below the recipe.
#5: Monitor the baking
It is crucial to know if your oven is telling you lies. Mine did (see exhibit A). For these delicate macarons, 30 degrees is the difference between success and well, exhibit A. Use an oven thermometer to detect deceit. Bake the macarons between 300° F and 315° F until the tops are set, and the bottoms almost peel easily away from the parchment. For me, this is 16 to 18 minutes.
This recipe calls for the French meringue method – simply whipping the egg whites with granulated sugar. Many macaron recipes online call for the Italian meringue method, but I find this one much simpler and equally reliable.
- 150 g confectioner’s sugar
- 90g almond flour (or blanched, slivered almonds)
- 2.5 ea egg whites (about 75 g)
- 37g granulated sugar
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- Food coloring, natural recommended
- Flavoring + extracts, i.e. vanilla, lavender, citrus zest, etc.
- 2 eggs, large
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 8 oz butter, unsalted, room temperature, cut into small pieces
- Line a couple baking pans with parchment or silicone baking mats. Preheat oven to 300° F.
- Grind almonds or almond flour with confectioner’s sugar in a food processor, just let it grind while you whip meringue. If using lemon or orange zest, add here.
- Combine the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (hand mixer works, too), and whip on high speed with a whisk attachment to a stiff meringue (resembles shaving cream). Add the cream of tartar, and any color or extracts, and whip on high speed 30 seconds more to incorporate.
- Using a spatula and a sieve, fold in the dry ingredients in batches. Fold until it flows like lava, combined, but not over-mixed.
- Transfer to a piping bag (or large plastic bag) fitted with a quarter-inch tip, pinching the bottom closed so it doesn’t leak out on you. (I use a hair pin).
- Pipe onto a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Tap the sheet pan on the counter with moderate force a couple of times, rotating once.
- Optional: Let the piped macarons rest on the counter for 30 to 40 minutes. The shell will turn from shiny and sticky, to smooth and dull.
- Bake at 300° F for about 16 minutes, rotating the pan once the signature “feet” form. Cool a few minutes before removing from baking mat or parchment. Fill with buttercream and store chilled for 24 hours before serving.
- In a small saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil, and cook until it reaches 234° F on a candy or meat thermometer. Sans thermometer, it usually on takes a minute or two of boiling to become hot enough).
- While syrup boils, beat eggs in a medium mixing bowl on medium speed. When syrup reaches temperature, slowly drizzle into eggs, avoiding beater or whisk attachment (if using stand mixer). Beat on high until room temperature. Add butter in several additions, and beat until smooth.
- The buttercream may appear broken (curdled), but keep beating and it will smooth out. Add extract or liqueur to taste. Store refrigerated, and bring to room temperature to use leftovers (it may need another beating to smooth out after being refrigerated).
I dare not add notes to this recipe! For all manner of tips, tricks and troubleshooting, do scroll up!
Keywords: French macarons, French macaron recipe
The Temperature Tango
Many macaron-obsessed bakers appear to follow the Martha Stewart mantra of preheat to 375° F. Then turn down to 325° F when the macarons hit the heat. Then repeat before each batch. Pierre Hermé recommends opening and closing the oven door at key times during baking. OMG, No to both. Most home ovens would go into shock. Rotate the pan halfway through baking, and the rest of the time let it be. Seriously.
The Resting Requirement
So many of the overexposed macaron authorities claim you must rest your piped batter to form a shell prior to baking. This is absolutely not true. Just ask my pastry instructor, Rudy Speiss (he’s Swiss, so he stays pretty neutral). And see exhibit C.
Exhibit A: Baked immediately.
That being shown, I have found success on occasion in resting…
Exhibit B: One batch. Half rested, half not. C’est la vie!
So I advise thinking of this step as insurance against anything that could be slightly off – whether your oven is feisty, or your macaronage is a little rough. However, if your meringue is weak and you butcher the folding process, no amount of resting (or tapping for that matter) will save your macarons.
More macaron madness
Sit, stay, drool with Sadie Mae
Interested at first, but not excited by resting macarons. And I don’t blame one sweet bit.